It’s the summer of ‘94 in my best friend’s basement, and we’re watching MTV music videos at full blast. Soon, we see three skinny, pale guys dressed in ‘70s era undercover cop garbs with fake mustaches running wild through alleyways. Their hideous striped ties and shaggy wigs fly in their faces. The music behind the chaos is raging with vigor, accompanied by the screaming lyrics, “Can’t stand it, I know you planned it!” and backed by furious attacks on beats 1 and 4. It’s angry but more so funny, like a Quentin Tarantino satire after Reservoir Dogs and before Pulp Fiction.
It’s the Beastie Boys.
My family and I never grew up with the “PG-13” accessibilities of cable, so, to me, MTV was like a mischievous escape. The “Sabotage” music video rampantly directed by Spike Jonze tapped into my angsty needs. (I was 16 at the time.) These guys sounded upset about something, but they were having fun while doing it.
I knew this trio – Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, Michael “Mike D” Diamond, and Adam “MCA” Yauch – had a goofy side in their earlier revelries of “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!”), “Girls,” and “Brass Monkey.”
But, “Sabotage” was a statement piece for both the Beastie Boys and my Holden Caulfield needs. Watching the music video with my best friend was a hormonal launching pad moment for me, and it sparked my interest in the Beastie Boys all the way through college when they produced another legendary music video with Spike Jonze in “Intergalactic.”
Recently released by Apple TV, Beastie Boys Story is more a seminar than a documentary, yet as Ad-Rock and Mike D tell their origin story on Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre stage, Director Spike Jonze intersperses nostalgic images and sound bites that capture the essence of the trio’s evolving sound. The result is a multi-dimensional analysis of a groundbreaking “band” for fans and non-fans alike. Adam Yauch, who died of cancer in 2012, is there in spirit, and his sporadic interview footage on the back screen provide enough evidence of his complex, gifted ingenuity.
All three contributed to the group’s progressive sound from “Monty Python/Black Flag” punk, to rap, to hip-hop, to alternative rock. More importantly, all three grew up and beyond the party-boy mockery and party boy lifestyles. Horovitz has the dignity and wherewithal to admit to the misogynistic jerk of “Girls,” which was fun at the time but not anything to identify with (or be proud of).
Yes, much of the antics and stories are self-congratulatory, but these three skinny, pale guys deserve any musician’s praise for staying true to their sound despite record company manipulation. Hell, even society was rooting more for the frat boy persona.
Staying true to a sound also means experimenting, sampling, and evolving. To this day, I think Paul’s Boutique was the Beastie Boys’ most unleashed, vulnerable, and sincere album. Of course, it was also the most financially unsuccessful.
Young and innocent mistakes meld with older and wiser achievements for the Beastie Boys, and Spike Jonze’s doc fulfills both the story and the tribute by the end.
These boys have grown up. Their sound already did that years ago.
Beastie Boys Story ***1/2 out of *****